If you are wondering if budget backpacking in your 30s, 40s or 50s and beyond is even a thing or what the experience is, you have come to the right place. I will cover all the technical aspects, such as staying in hostels, socialising, meeting people, and enjoying travelling with a backpack. But I will also address your concerns and share some of my personal experiences.
For the longest time, I wondered if this article should be written at all.
In my travels around the world, as a ‘mature’ budget backpacker, I most often meet travellers in their 20s. They are taking a gap year, travelling throughout the summer, or taking some time off shortly after graduating from school.
I have not met many travellers who, like me, have decided to quit their job at 43 and travel on a shoestring budget with no end in sight.
I would most likely meet more people my age in coworking spaces and coliving accommodations for digital nomads, but I guess this is a different crowd too.
So what do you do when you are in between, neither fitting here nor there?
Not a digital nomad type nor a 20-something backpacker.
You are not a remote worker, not a famous vlogger, and well past your 20s when being irresponsible and adventurous is perfectly acceptable.
Do you give up on your dream?
No way, you shouldn’t.
Disclosure: I am not telling you to quit your job and go travelling. I am not encouraging you to make any decision, and how you orchestrate your life should be entirely up to you. But if you are here reading this article, chances are that you are wondering how is it to travel for a long time on a shoestring budget in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. I am here to give you my thoughts, share my experiences, and maybe offer a piece of advice or two. The rest is up to you.
Table of Contents
The Back Story
I quit my job to travel and become a travel blogger in my 40s. I did not have a house to sell. For many years I was an immigrant trying to settle in a new country (or several), on a mission to create what is called a “good life.”
I eventually got there. By my late 30s, I had found a good job, and if I had stuck with it, I would probably be able to buy a house by now. Buy a car, get a loan and have a good retirement plan. But I didn’t do that.
Don’t get me wrong, there are other mature travellers out there. But you do not meet many of them in hostel dorms.
For a long time, I wondered if I was the only one.
While the other 40- and 50-somethings would sell their homes or rent out their apartments to travel in comfort, stay in Airbnb and rent cars, I, on the other hand, packed my backpack and went on a budget backpacking trip.
I stay in hostels and eat street food. I take local buses, volunteer at hostels in exchange for free accommodation, own very little, and try to build a whole new life.
Of course, I met other travellers closer to my age, especially during my travels in South and Central America. But more often than not I’m the oldest. And that’s why I asked myself a few times: Am I too old to travel this way?
Am I too old to go backpacking and stay in hostels? Am I delusional or going through some kind of mid-life crisis?
Maybe I am, but guess what, I am doing it anyway. Who makes the rules anyway?
At a certain age, you should be sort of settled. Maybe owe a house, or a car, be married with children. Save for retirement, invest.
They look at people like me strangely. A single woman in her 40s, travelling alone, on a shoestring budget, staying in hostels… Never married, no children, no commitments, no debts…
She must be lonely or some kind of hippie weirdo…
However, I decided to do my own thing regardless of the social concepts and common stereotypes.
Was it scary?
Yes, and it still is. But every time I am in doubt, thinking that I have made a mistake, I ask myself a question: What is the alternative?
When I imagine myself working in an office again to make someone else rich with no influence over how things get done, how I end the work shift to have just enough time to cook dinner and maybe go to the gym and watch some Netflix, how I wait for the weekend, for the vacation, for retirement, so I can really live my life… I know I made the right decision.
Yes, it would be different if I had children. That is quite clear. And I am aware that I am privileged to be able to even consider this lifestyle.
I saw the envy in the eyes of a waiter who served me on the beach in Colombia when I told him I travelled full time. He couldn’t even afford to travel within his own country. Many people are not even able to leave their country. They have difficult passports and are bound by family and cultural obligations.
But knowing all this makes me want to do it even more. Because I am really grateful for these opportunities. And I don’t want to waste them.
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So I went ...
I have now been travelling, on and off, for 3 years.
Most of the time financing those travels with my savings. When savings run out, I went back home, worked for a year and set off again.
I started easy. I went to Portugal and the Island of Madeira. Eventually, I got my ticket and 3 months into my travels I landed in Bogota.
I fell in love with Colombia, with Latin America and what followed, with my style of travel. I realised how few things we need to be happy.
Travelling changed me, it broke me for a normal life. I became incapable of small talk and sought out meaningful conversations and experiences that taught me new things about myself and the world.
The world became smaller as I realised that we are all mostly the same, and larger at the same time as my desire to see more of it grew.
Now I’m sitting in a hostel in northern Albania, where I’m volunteering for a month, looking at my plane ticket to Bangkok – excited and apprehensive as to what the future holds. The savings will eventually run out. This blog isn’t bringing in enough money yet. But I think I will figure it out.
But enough about me. I am here, to share my experiences and give you advice based on the past 3 years of travelling as a 40-something budget traveller.
Backpacking in your 30s 40s and beyond - Tips and Personal Advice
Backpacking Travel Style
I think if you are a mature traveller you have to ask yourself, perhaps more than if you were in your twenties, what kind of person and what kind of traveller you are.
When it comes to backpacking, there is no one style that fits all. Maybe you’re a nature lover who loves to hike and discover hidden natural treasures. Maybe you’re a culture and history buff that loves exploring Unesco sites, historic cities and museums. Maybe you’re a beach bum, a slow traveller, an introvert or an extrovert. Or like me, an introvert who has learned to be an extrovert.
There is no such thing as a mature travelling style. We have our preferences, no matter how old we are, and your age shouldn’t determine how you travel. Your passion should.
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Can you Go Backpacking in your 40s and Beyond when you are Broke?
Not everyone was lucky enough to be born in a country that offers all the opportunities, or in a country where the currency is strong. Our paths in life are also different. And sometimes you find yourself as a mature person, but without the financial means to go on a luxury trip.
This should never stop you.
I was an immigrant for many years. Left my country as a 25-year-old owning just one backpack. I worked hard, first as a cleaner then made a sort of career in hospitality. The only thing I regret not obtaining much of earlier in my life is financial knowledge.
Growing up in a poor family, the ”poor man mindset” was a default mind program for me. When I made my first decent money I spent it. To prove to myself that now I can. I should have invested, and done wiser things with my hard earnt money, but I didn’t. Obtaining knowledge and experience takes time too.
A minimalist traveller in me looks back at the person I was 15 years ago and cringes. But hey, we all have our paths.
But where am I going with this story?
For the first 40 years of my life, I lived paycheck to paycheck. Because I didn’t know any better. When I finally had a job and the means to invest and grow my money, I realised that I hated the corporate world and that working in an office was slowly killing my soul.
So I decided to stop chasing money and start chasing my dreams instead. And maybe, just maybe, make some money in the meantime 🙂
So How to do Budget Backpacking in your 30s 40s and Beyond
I’m not going to tell you how much money you should save before you go travelling, or how to find a remote or online job to become a digital nomad. It’s not that kind of post. But I will tell you that you don’t need to have a fortune in your bank account to start an adventure.
When I ventured into the first leg of my travels I had 14k euros saved. This lasted me for a year, but if I knew what I know now, it would last longer.
When I left the second time, I had much less. I had to return home to work for a year, and I no longer earned in euros. So had less this time, but a bit more experience and started making some income online. I decided to take a risk!
The main difference I found was that as a traveller in my 40s, I had this sense of urgency. I didnt want to wait for 2 or 3 years working and saving, so I have plenty. I wanted to start as soon as I had enough to last me for a few months and while I was healthy, fit and able. At a certain age, you realise that life and health are not given. That things can change in the blink of an eye. I didn’t want to wait.
To provide you with an example, at the moment I am travelling Balkans and spending on average 800 euros a month. This can be possible if you are willing to stay in hostels, and when possible in budget private rooms. I like a mixture of both, for sanity’s sake. I also volunteer sometimes in order to save on accommodation. This brings the average down.
You can spend as little or as much as you want when you travel. But when you travel on a tight budget, you need to be prepared to make some sacrifices. It is not always easy, and often harder as we get older.
There are many experiences that I had to miss simply because I could not afford them, but this doesn’t take away from a travel experience as a whole. I totally loved the 4 months I spent in Colombia even though I couldn’t afford the Lost City Trek or a trip to Amazon.
But travelling on a budget as a mature traveller can be easier too. We are more self-aware, know what we want and are less susceptible to peer pressure. We have stronger intuition, but also street smarts. We are less at risk of being scammed, less afraid of getting on a local bus and less likely will get drunk and robbed at a beach party. Simply because that kind of party might not be our thing anymore. Most of the time (*wink wink)
We are also more likely to understand the value of money so it might be easier to say no to some things.
Staying in Hostels in your 40s
I love staying in hostels, but I hate sleeping on the top bunk of a dorm. I feel awkward climbing up there, it’s hard work and I am always worried that I will fall and make a full of myself. So before I arrive at the hostel I always ask if it’s possible to get a lower bed and look for hostels that have nice comfortable bunk beds. Easy to climb to in case there’s no other option.
If I had a choice and financial means to only stay in private accommodation, I would still choose to stay in hostels half of the time. Even though I am perfectly happy within my own company, it is nice to share your thoughts and experiences with someone from time to time, have a laugh and a card game or go on a bike ride or a hike to the waterfall.
Hostels are just the best for meeting other travellers, no matter your age!
Often, while I am staying in hostels as a backpacker in my 40s I tend to forget how old I am.
There will be always a bunch of youngsters that you will not be able to completely relate to. They will be talking about things you might not know much about or cannot relate to. But isn’t it the same in life? We cannot get on with everyone, we cannot have something in common with everyone we meet.
In almost every hostel I stayed at I met someone I could have a decent conversation with. A bit less often in Europe, almost always in Latin America.
Half of the time I met someone I could spend quality time with, whether it was a chat in the hostel kitchen, an evening of girly talk over tequila shots, a day exploring or even a friendship that lasted beyond the current location. And guess what, most of the people I connected with were younger than me. Very few times I connected with someone that was either my age or older. And I hardly ever felt out of place, inadequate or too old.
It has to come out of your personality too. You know, age truly is just a number.
You can be in your 20s and prefer to stay indoors, watch Netflix or play video games, not being a curious person open to new experiences. If you are a traveller at heart, age doesn’t matter. Trust me!
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Travelling solo can get lonely. More so when you travel in your 40s and beyond.
I don’t follow any particular tactic when it comes to meeting people. I stay in hostels and if the price is right, I participate in group experiences. Free walking tours are great too!
Then I let things unfold. Sometimes you leave without having made any significant connections. But inevitably, you at least get to talk to people. Sometimes that’s good enough.
But sometimes you meet someone you get along with, have a nice conversation with, and maybe even meet again or do something together. But I never force it.
That’s another thing that I think is different when you travel as a more mature traveller. The need to make friends with everyone is no longer there. We value meaningful connections, not just any connection.
I am pretty open, but not extremely extroverted. I can be shy, too. But there will always be this person who has no issues talking to people and wants to strike up a conversation with you. I take advantage of these situations!
I dont think it’s a good idea to force things, authenticity is the key. Be who you are and the right people will come.
But hostels are not the only place where you can meet other travellers and make friends.
You can stay in a BnB or homestay with shared facilities like a kitchen and sitting area. I stayed in a place like this in Bosnia and met a few great people!
You can also join group excursions, city tours or free walking tours. Cooking classes or food tours are great for meeting people too!
Packing Light is a Key
You may have a strong back and the knees of a 20-year-old, but I don’t. Although I do try to stay as fit as possible, carrying a 70-litre backpack is no longer my thing.
I am also not a suitcase person. In a city and many European destinations, you can definitely get by with a rolling suitcase, but it’s not going to be a cheap backpacking trip. If you want to save money on your travels, you will have to travel farther, to destinations off the beaten path and to places that are not as easy to get to.
For these destinations, a backpack is best, and the lighter the better.
It’s funny when I remember how as I was getting rid of all my stuff, including clothes, as I packed for my infinitive solo travel. I found myself surrounded by an enormous amount of clothes, and some of them were only worn once or twice. Now that I travel with a 44 litre backpack and 3 pairs of shoes, I am so much happier than when I had 2 closets and a chest of drawers full of stuff.
Also, as we get older some things don’t matter so much anymore. It is easier to choose to carry what is essential rather than what is fashionable.
I have literally one going-out outfit, and it isn’t that fancy anyway. I live in my Birkenstocks and shorts. Sometimes I feel like I want to look a bit more like a regular human. This is when I buy myself one small top or a skirt. But always lightweight, packable and not requiring ironing.
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Some Destinations are Better than Others for Mature Backpackers
I found Europe and its hostel scene to be the youngest. I still enjoy travelling in Europe but I less often stay in hostels. And given the prices of private rooms across Europe, it’s basically where I travel to the least.
The crowd is mostly pretty young, party prone and destination hopping. Makes it harder to meet people and I must say, I felt my age the most when I travelled in Western Europe.
Balkans are very different, especially off-the-beaten-path countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina or North Macedonia! The Balkans are incredible.
Out of all the parts of the world I travelled to I found Latin America to be the most mixed when it comes to the age of travellers and backpackers. It does take more of a seasoned traveller to travel full-time in some parts of South and Central America. I found that even the younger crowd was a bit different. More mature, more aware. Outside of places like Tulum and Medellin’s El Poblado.
I am yet to travel to SEA (very soon!) so I will update this post as I go!
Slow Travel / Best travel Style for Backpackers in their 30s 40s and Beyond
Slow Travel is the best. I get it! Not everyone has the time to stay in one place for longer and if you only have 3 or 2 weeks for your trip, you want to see and experience as much as you can.
But trust me, fast travel is tiring and lacks depth.
I quit my job to travel so staying longer in one place is not only possible but more affordable for me so I do it as much as I can. If you have an extended period of time dedicated to your travels, I encourage you to spend more time in one location.
You will truly immerse in the place, get to know the people and the culture and have enough time to see everything that there is to see without being rushed. You will leave with better and stronger memories of the place as well. And you will spend less money too!
As a 40-something backpacker, I found changing a location every two days exhausting. Not because my body cannot keep up with it (but it would probably burn out sooner or later anyway) but because my soul and mental health suffer if I rush around. It is easier to create a little bit of a routine and take care of yourself when you travel slowly.
Travel in your 30s 40s and beyond - Final Thoughts
Some things are the same and some things are very different whether you are travelling in your 20s or 40s. Many things suck the same way (long bus journeys, uncomfortable beds, mosquitos) and many are incredible the same way (people we meet, places we see).
Some things are way better for those of us travelling and backpacking in the 30s or 40s. We know what we want and what we don’t want. Understand more who we are (although it is a neverending journey) and what experiences we are looking for.
We care less about what people think of us and we appreciate every moment, slightly more aware of the passage of time.
There is no right or wrong time to start travelling or to venture on a budget backpacking adventure. If is what you dream of, just go for it!
If you think I missed some important aspects of travelling and backpacking on your 40s and beyond please leave a comment below! I will keep this post updated and add more information as I go!
Happy Travels and Stay Free!
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